By Gabe Cohen
All rights reserved by the author
In a small, dark room lit only by flashing colors coming from a television set that broadcasts a classic Major League Baseball game there slept a young man who dreams of fame and glory coming from being a sports star. He holds the Vince Lombardi trophy, given to the team who wins the Super Bowl, as the quarterback of the New Mexico Pumas and thrusts it up into the night air to show the fans their teams’ accomplishment. As camera lights are flashing and his teammates are hugging family members and other personnel from the franchise a wave of pride sweeps over him like nothing he has ever felt before. And as the commissioner steps up to the microphone he hears a ring coming from his cell phone.
He grudgingly rubbed his eyes and opened them to see the familiar posters of the greatest athletes to ever step onto the playing field. By his desk he saw a picture of Barry Sanders being chased by four players and making one of his casual cuts that no one could ever duplicate or catch to escape from another green jersey. Over by one of his windows he sees a poster of the Cal Ripken Jr. with silver boarders and a big 75 in the background to celebrate the Iron Man’s 75th anniversary of beating Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played. And on his door a picture of a skinny Lance Armstrong, who in his mind the greatest athlete of all time, climbing the Alp D’Uez in his classic yellow jersey. Then the phone rang again for the fifth time.
“Hello?” grumbled Matt.
“Hey… Matt. You’re late. You were supposed to be over here twenty minutes ago, the game’s already started.”
“Hey Scott,” Scott was his best friend. “Yeah, sorry. I guess I dozed off. I’ll be there in five.”
“OK, but hurry up.” Scott sounded really excited. “Olivio just had a huge hit on the punt returner and put him on a stretcher.”
“Alright man, calm down I’ll be there.”
As Matt hung up the phone he realized what was on TV. He had seen game seven of the 2001 World Series more times than he could count. It was right in one of the dozen or so climaxes of the game when Randy Johnson, in a relief appearance, just struck out the last batter to force the game into the bottom of the ninth with the game tied. Matt, already playing the image of Luiz Gonzalez hitting a line drive to bring in the winning run in his head, pulled a t-shirt over his boxer like physique and headed out the door.
* * * *
With his wavy blonde hair sweeping over his eyes in the wind as he climbed the hills of Marin County Matt thought about Lance Armstrong climbing the Pyrenees. He weaves around the bends and curves of the roads being hit with the last bit of light from the setting sun and his legs move like pistons and the veins in his arms and legs pump as he stood up to climb the last hill to Scott’s house. His legs started to burn but Matt just pedaled faster. He liked the pain; it pushed him and only made him stronger. And as he reached the top of the hill and arrived at Scott’s house he had a brief thought of riding until it was dark but then saw Scott perched by the window watching Tuesday night football game. So Matt decided to go in and stepped off his bike with his legs shaking.
The second Matt turned the doorknob he could here Scott yelling:
“What the hell took you so long? You said five minutes,” shouted Scott with his eyes still completely focused on the TV.
“I was on my bike so I took the long way.”
“Why do even bother with that sport? They’re like the only one that hasn’t made roids legal.”
“I know,” said Matt, a little ticked off. “That’s what makes it great.”
”Biking’s for pussies!” Scott laughed. “You’re gonna be a baseball or soccer player anyway. Or maybe you should just play football with me”
“Yeah. Right.” Matt laughed at the last comment. “Let’s just watch the game,” Now Matt’s tone told Scott he really didn’t want to get into this conversation. “Where are we?”
“It’s almost half, 9ers are up by three. Dude, Anderson had a 76 yard field goal.”
“Seventy-six!? That’s gotta be his longest of the season.”
“Try career. It coulda been like 80 too. Right down the middle and plenty of distance.”
“How’s Friedman running?”
“He’s only got like 80 yards or something.”
“So not really that good,” asked Matt in a rhetorical manner. “Put it on ESPN Classic. They’re just gonna take a knee to end the half anyway and the ’94 Superbowl is on.”
“Ninety-seven? That’s like 70 years old. Screw that. There’s a halftime piece on Led Miller that I wanna see anyway. I think they’re gonna talk about how he’ll probably break Vick’s rushing record for a QB.”
* * * *
“… And that game is just coming to a close as the Mets look like they’re gonna take it from their neighbors in the Bronx, 16-7. Now back to football here’s Jake Fiala reporting from Mile High Stadium.”
“Thanks Jim. I’m here at the site of tomorrow night’s primetime game where Led Miller’s New Jersey Jets are visiting the red hot Broncos. But Miller might be just the thing that can stop Denver. He is in the middle of possibly one of the greatest seasons in post-Steroid Football history. He is on pace to break Steve Vick’s quarterback rushing record. But when we talk about Steve Vick, we are reminded of the pioneering of complete Steroid use of not only professional athletes but young athletes as well.
Most sports fans know the date March 1st 2006, when Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bud Selig came out with the announcement that Steroids would be legal in the Majors -- this coming just days after the US Government made Steroid use legal. While Barry Bonds denied his use of any illegal supplement up to his early death some believe that Selig made Steroid use legal so that his records would not be skewed whereas others believe that he had his own personal agenda. However, whatever the reason Selig changed the face of sports forever.
After the initial shock of the statement more and more fans started going to baseball games to see the higher scoring more exciting form of baseball. Soon other sports associations followed lead and only 18 months later the NBA came out with a similar statement that allowed the use of Steroids and the then new International Hockey Association and the NFL shortly after that. It was only a matter of time till almost all professional sports leagues allowed Steroids and even the NCAA and Olympic Committee made the use of Steroids and supplements legal in certain sports in 2018. TV ratings and ticket prices raised to record highs do to the harder hitting, higher scoring and more aggressive games. And the fan base grew with the technology.
Because Steroids were now legal there were stronger efforts to improve the drugs. More affective and specific Steroids hit the market and increasingly more athletes were encouraged and eventually forced to take these new drugs. Soon every athlete was on Steroids and a couple of companies were beginning to take over the market and gain huge sums of money and power. Then almost 50 years ago in 2028 a series of drugs were produced by Dr. Kevin O’Connor of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) that were specific to certain sports and body types and were most effective when one started taking them at puberty. However, it was not legal to take Steroids until the age of eighteen so BALCO would not be able to capitalize on their possible profit. Because the company was so powerful and affluent the CEO of BALCO was able to influence enough Congressperson’s to make it legal to use Steroids at the age of fifteen. Now it is customary for kids, whose parents have enough money and who want it bad enough, to get Steroids specific to whatever sport they want to compete in for their 15th birthday.”
Matt’s 15th birthday was in eight days and everybody wanted to know what sport he was going to choose, but at this point he had no idea not only which to decide but if he wanted to choose and take Steroids at all. If he started taking Steroids at all he would not be able to cycle and he would not be able to change his choice. Scott just wanted him to play football like he chose almost a year ago when he turned fifteen. But Matt was a pure fan of sport. He believed sport was created and made popular because people loved to be a part of it, not so those few exceptional people who could play at that high level could make millions of dollars so those normal people would be entertained. He loved the athletes who played for the love of the game and competition, like Lou Gehrig, Pelé, Ted Williams and those other athletes immortalized for their greatness, effort and passion for the game. It seemed that now, however, those great athletes have been nearly all but forgotten. No one talked of the heroic summer when the M&M brothers battled for the single season homerun record and Roger Marris overcoming adversity to win that race for 61. And it seemed that no one remembered what Pelé did to bring the world’s love of soccer to the U.S. and Roberto Clemente’s efforts to not only improve the game but to improve the state of the world. To Matt all that his father had taught him of the integrity of sports and what it takes to be a pure and true athlete had been forgotten and replaced with a greater sense of material entertainment and the visceral incentives of sport. In his mind he was the only person he knew that was struggling with how Steroids affect the honor and veracity of sports.
“…Steve Vick, whose father was Michael Vick, was one of the first Football players to take Steroids from the age of fifteen up to retirement. In his best season he crushed his fathers quarterback rushing record with an average of 223.65 yards per game (the record books were now kept with averages because a season went from 16 to 38 games.) And now Led Miller is on the verge of breaking that record. I was able to talk to Led about what this season has meant to him and what the possible record means to him.”
Matt pulled the remote out of Scott’s hand and changed the channel. He was not in the mood to listen or watch anything involving that topic.
“What the hell are you doing? I wanted to watch that.”
“I didn’t like it. I wanna watch the ’94 Superbowl anyway.”
“Yeah right. You’ve seen it like 20 times.”
“Screw it man. I’m tired, I’m outa here.”
“Alright whatever, I’m gonna go lift anyway. Maybe next time you could stay for more than ten minutes.” Scott loved being sarcastic towards Matt.
“OK. I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Matt as he went out the door. He couldn’t wait to get back on his bike and race home. Nothing helped to clear his mind more than being on the road by his self.
* * * *
Matt awoke again from a phone ringing, but this time he did not pick it up. It was his house phone and he knew it was for his Mom or Stepdad for business or something else that didn’t involve him. He just covered his head with his pillow to try to get a couple more minutes of sleep before he had to get up for school. He had been trying to avoid going for a couple of days and had been quite successful, but today he was pitching so he had no choice. He was getting annoyed with all the questions from his friends, especially Scott, about what sport he would decide to pursue, but he still could not escape it completely for whenever he was at home he would hear it from his Stepdad. Matt was beginning to think about not taking Steroids at all and to really be able to enjoy sports and competition and not have to think about the sacrifices that he would make just for a shot at the “big time.”
Before Matt knew it his alarm was going off and he realized that he had slept through it and he was going to be late for school in five minutes. He jumped out of bed and threw on some clothes that were lying on the floor then ran out of his bedroom door. He flew past the kitchen and saw a brown paper bag with his name on it, which could only be his lunch, on the kitchen table. As he ran through the kitchen and grabbed his lunch he got a glimpse of the schedule board on the wall by the refrigerator.
MOM – home work errands
DAD – home work errands
MATT – home school baseball football basketball soccer wrestling swimming Scott’s biking Dad’s
JUSTIN – home daycare
His mom has gotten more neurotic with every one of her past three husbands. He knew he was going to get an earful from her for not erasing the underline under home and putting one under school, but he did not care; he was going to get it from his teacher anyway. Matt did not have time to ride his bike like he usually does so he took his rusted, old, brown, beat down Chrysler that he got from his step Dad when he got his license on his 14th birthday. He was more upset that his being late would not allow him to ride than the fact that he had to show up to school in that ugly thing. He knew he wouldn’t get into too much trouble because he was pitching and it was a pretty big game (big enough to rearrange the normal rotation to move Matt up a couple of days to pitch).
* * * *
“Dude, I don’t know why your moping, you had one hell of a game.”
“I’m not moping, Scott. I’ve just been really tired and stressed lately.”
“Let’s just watch Sportscenter. That’ll help.”
“Alright.” Matt didn’t want to do much of anything. He was more fatigued than most of his teammates who were fifteen and on Steroids, and that just made him not want to think about that topic even more. But no sooner than that thought could escape his mind a commercial for Steroids exploded onto the TV screen. At this point Matt couldn’t even fight with Scott to change the channel.
“Hi I’m Mike ‘the Mac Daddy Diesel’ Stafford. Some of you might recognize me from my playing time with the New York Giants as one of their Hall of Fame linebackers, and I’m here to tell you about what helped me to reach that level. I was one of the first to be able to use Steroids at the age of fifteen after the BALCO 15 Act. My parents and I choose to use BALCO’s then new Steroid POW Errrgh and without it I would not have been able to get to the top. Now I’m here to promote BALCO’s newest Steroid POW Errrgh 3000: The Next Generation…”
“Hey Scott, isn’t that what you use.”
Shut up I’m trying to listen.”
“…This, as the title explains, is the next generation of Steroids. POW Errrgh 3000 acts as an Anabolic Steroid. It focuses on the actions of androgen receptors in the muscle tissue. This receptor carries the Steroid to the cell’s nucleus where it tells the DNA in the cell to relay its message onto the mRNA (messenger RNA). The mRNA then brings the Steroid’s message to muscle cells which causes increased protein synthesis which in turn causes hypertrophy or growth in the muscle tissue. However, unlike those old outdated Anabolic Steroids these Steroids bring more specific messages to the DNA and mRNA. These messages include what area of muscle to bring it to and to what extent and size to grow it. There are six steps in which you take these pills: the first only lasts 7 months to get your body used to these Steroids and the other five have a 7 year life span each and work as a progression.
So if you want to be a Hall of Famer and get some raw POW Errrgh then call this number:”
And on the bottom of the screen it read in almost unreadable font:
While most side effects have been countered with certain supplements in the Steroid there is still a
possibility of bone pains, urination problems, gallstones, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
Matt knew that those were the Steroids Scott was using, but he was just trying to get his attention away from the commercial. He knew what conversation was about to follow it.
“When are you gonna make your choice, man.”
“I don’t know. I kinda have the feeling that I don’t want to just apply myself to one sport. I’ve been seriously thinking about not taking anything.”
“Fuck you man. I’m getting sick of you and your damn whining. You don’t know how lucky you actually are.”
“Lucky? I have to hear…”
“Don’t give me this I have to hear everybody ask me every second, shit. You’re set for life. You can compete with guys who have been taking Roids for two years and you haven’t even started yours yet. You’re gonna be a star at whatever you choose to do whether it’s baseball, soccer or even basketball.”
“Yeah but maybe I don’t want to choose right now. Maybe I can play more than one sport and keep my options open for a few more years; maybe until college.”
“Don’t be a dumbass. You’re in Junior High. You think you’ll be able to compete with these guys until college. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are these guys are gonna get bigger and faster and mean as hell. I know you think Steroids affect the integrity of the game but it’s too late to change that. Everyone at one point or another thinks about how Steroids maybe shouldn’t be in sports but its not up to us anymore. Sports have been turned into a circus and all you can do is go with it and enjoy it for however long you can play and watch it as a positive thing.”
“But maybe I just want to enjoy it for as long as I can without taking Steroids and then be done with it.”
“And what… sit in a cubicle that’s no bigger than a closet and wonder how far you could have made it and what kind of life you could be living? I won’t let you do that.”
“Since when do you control what I do?” Matt was starting to get pissed at Scott for talking to him like he was. He knew Scott had a point but he was intent on not defiling the purity of what he loved so much.
“I don’t, man. Forget it. It’s your choice and I think you, and nobody else, has some thinking to do. Just remember that things change and you can go along with that change and still remember what made it great in the first place.”
“Yeah whatever. I’m gonna get going. I’ll see you later.”
Matt walked out of Scott’s house and headed for his bike (his mom had to use the car so she picked it up at school and brought his bike). And Matt could not have been happier. Scott was right, he had a lot of thinking to do and nothing allowed him to think better then being on the road with his bike. Matt cut through the turns and bends and climbed and descended the hills for hours and thought without anyone else’s input. He was lucky: the road didn’t talk back to him. He passed his house a couple of times until he was not able to think anymore. He was worn out and had not gotten anywhere. He had to make a decision within the next couple of days and he was more confused than ever. The only thing that Matt was still sure of was his love for sport and his hesitation to disrupt the honor of his favorite thing. After a good night’s sleep he thought he would be able to make up his mind.
* * * *
Matt had one of the longest weeks of his life after that day of the baseball game and Scott and his discussion. He had his birthday party, whether he had wanted it or not, and it seemed everyone was asking more questions than before, if that was at all possible, about his surprising decision. He was just trying to get some sleep before practice when the phone rang again.
“Of course it would ring.” Matt mumbled to himself. “Right when I’m trying to get some damn sleep.” Matt just turned towards the wall and tried to go to sleep, it wouldn’t be for him anyway.
But about two minutes after the ringing stopped Matt heard his mom’s footsteps up to his door and then heard here say, “Matt, honey, your Dad’s on the phone. He just got back from his trip in Italy.”
Matt couldn’t have heard any better news. He had been a little upset ever since his birthday and he knew his dad, who he hadn’t talked to in a couple of weeks, would be able to cheer him up.
“Hey, buddy. Whats goin on?”
“Not too much. How was the Giro?” Matt was talking about the Giro d’Italia (the second most prestigious cycling race next to the Tour de France.)
“It was unbelievable. I got to bike the roads that they raced before they even got on it. I didn’t go as fast but I got it done.”
“Yeah, I would’ve loved to see that,” Matt laughed.
“Your old man can still pedal. Hey… I’m sorry I missed your birthday. Did you get my present?”
“Yeah it was great. I wore it out biking that day.” Matt was right, he was feeling a lot better.
“Good, I’m glad. Hey… so how ‘bout I come by and we hit the pavement? I wanna see how much easier it is to bike around here than in the Alps.”
Matt’s voice dropped and he was again distressed. “I can’t dad. I’ve got practice.”
“I thought you only had baseball Monday through Friday?”
Matt’s voice sounded even deeper and more upset. “No more baseball, Dad; just Football.”
© Copyright 2005 by the author
All rights reserved